Monthly Archives: January 2014

Additional Annexation Thoughts

Kudos to members of the Chico City Council for sticking to their guns and standing strong against the bully Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCo) on January 21! Instead of breaking and bowing to LAFCo’s threatening letter, you stood up for your constituents by directing your staff to work towards finding an alternate solution. Granted, Mayor Scott Gruendl sounded wishy-washy when he talked himself out of supporting LAFCo (at least that was my take); but all seven of you did end up voting correctly. How refreshing!

Last Tuesday, in the rush leading up to the Council meeting, we provided the Council with information about the history of the LAFCo issue that was conspicuously absent from Nakamura’s staff report. We then shared it with you in the post, Chapman, Mulberry and the LAFCo Stick. Now that the pressure is off, here are some additional thoughts about the City’s position on the annexation debate.

Before expounding further, I want to be clear that none of us at Truth Matters, Chico! has a horse in this race. We have no enduring loyalty to the City’s policies, and none of us lives in an unincorporated island within the boundaries of Chico’s Sphere of Influence.

Having established that whatever the outcome of this debate, we will not be personally impacted, following are some additional technical and historical data, as well as points of general information (and some opinions) for you to consider.

Disenfranchisement? – LAFCo has repeatedly accused the City of disenfranchising the residents of the Chapman Mulberry area, which LAFCo’s Board and staff consistently label a “low rent” district. The facts, however, do not support the claim. The City has also chosen NOT to annex the areas of El Monte Avenue and Chico Canyon Road, notably two of the most “high rent” districts in Chico’s Sphere of Influence.

Want to be annexed? – While annexation proceedings can be initiated by the City, there is absolutely nothing preventing any property owner from submitting an application for annexation. In fact, when a resident submits an application for sewer service, there is an opportunity to indicate interest in being annexed concurrently with sewer connection. So, if someone personally feels disenfranchised by living in a County pocket, the solution is as simple as going to City Hall and submitting an application! In fact, the required forms are provided on the City’s Planning Department website. Here are the links to the application for annexation only or the application for annexation with sewer connection. Disenfranchisement? I think not.

How does the City or Council know what their constituents want? – The City proposed, and the Council approved, the idea of initiating annexation proceedings for a County pocket upon receipt of 50% plus one requests for sewer hookup. One of the great things about that proposal is it operates as an informal survey. If every time the City receives an application for sewer service, it asks the applicant to indicate whether or not there is an interest in annexing the property, and/or to sign a Consent to Future Annexation to obtain the sewer connection, then obviously the data to determine whether property owners in a County pocket are ready to annex is being collected. Can you think of a better way?

Condition of infrastructure in County pockets? – There has always been a lot of back and forth between the City and County regarding infrastructure in County pockets. What I can attest to as documented truth is the Overall Condition Index (OCI) of the City’s streets, how that number was negatively impacted by the many annexations that have already occurred, and how that number will be further negatively impacted when the remaining County pockets are annexed.

One of my responsibilities as a City employee was the Pavement Management Program (PMP), which kept an eye on the overall condition of the City’s roads and prioritized repairs based on taxpayers receiving the most bang for their bucks. (There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to road repairs.) Please bear with me – I am trying to not get too technical here, but this is important!

The PMP assigns a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) to sections of roadways by taking into account multiple variables. This data goes through a complex mathematical calculation, via a computer program, and produces a number between 1 and 100 (where 100 is perfect and 1 is completely failed), which identifies the “condition” of the pavement in each section of roadway. All of the PCIs combined determine the OCI – ultimately assigning one number to establish the quality of Chico’s pavement.

Before Chico annexed approximately 7,000 acres of County pockets, its OCI was in the mid-70s, in the Very Good category. After those annexations occurred, Chico’s OCI dropped to the high 50s, the mid-range in the Good category. While I was managing the PMP, we decided to survey all road sections in the remaining County pockets, so we would be prepared to add them into our road maintenance program upon annexation. This survey informed us that Chico’s OCI would take an additional hit, putting Chico’s roadway network at the higher end of the Poor category.

Sales Tax Agreements? – It is difficult to discuss the existing Sales Tax Agreements between the City and the County without sounding overly opinionated; so I will limit my comments to the fact that the Agreements do exist, and in my opinion, it would be imperative that these Sales Tax Agreements be revised or eliminated upon annexation of all County pockets within Chico’s Sphere of Influence. Unfortunately, since both the City and County are parties to the Agreements, both agencies would have to agree to a renegotiation of the terms.

LAFCo staff has been working with City staff for years without resolution? – I can attest to LAFCo’s assertion that it has been working with City and County staff for two to three years, attempting to resolve the annexation issue. Mind you, the term “working with” is being used very loosely. Meetings had been occurring; however, in my experience, for about the first year plus some months, LAFCo staff would brainstorm with City and County staff and agree to proposed solutions, and then make a 180-degree turn at their Board meetings. LAFCo staff would repeatedly blindside both City and County employees with unexpected declarations, and would provide agreements and/or other documentation to the LAFCo Board that had not been shared with the other impacted parties.

The LAFCo Board and staff also had a very different view of the sewer connections permitted within County pockets. The City and County had been working together for years in an effort to assist property owners in complying with the Nitrate Abatement Order (linked in my previous post), which required abandonment of individual septic systems to reduce the impact of nitrates on the groundwater, without imposing additional financial burdens such as forced annexation.

LAFCo, on the other hand, wanted to use the sewer connections as a “stick” to enforce annexations. Both the LAFCo Board and staff publicly stated that if the City allowed property owners to connect to sewer service without annexation, property owners would have NO OTHER REASON TO ANNEX. Not to receive local police service. Not to have drainage issues resolved. Not to have roadway upgrades completed by the City. Not to be included in the street sweeping and leaf pick-up programs. Not to vote on local issues. Did you get that last point? LAFCo believes those property owners don’t care about the ability to vote; they just care about getting that sewer connection! So much for disenfranchisement.

What else might the community not know? – Did you know that only parcels that are already developed can be connected to sewer without annexing? Any new development within a County pocket would require annexation in order to connect to sewer, which would bring in all other adjoining parcels – likely at the developer’s cost – to receive City services and infrastructure. In fact, there are a few undeveloped parcels of land in the Chapman Mulberry area that were discussed in meetings between the City, County, and LAFCo. In addition to an initiation of the annexation process at 50% plus one sewer connection, annexation would also be initiated by any new development.

Thanks for letting me spout off on this LAFCo business; I’ve needed to get it off my chest for some time now. That said, I hope it brings some additional enlightenment to those interested in, and/or potentially impacted by, the annexation debate.

If you have specific questions regarding this or any other topic we write about, please always feel free to email us if you do not want to publicly comment on the post. Odds are, if you have a question, someone else might have the same question. Letting us know gives us an opportunity to further explain anything that seems clear to us but muddy to you non-bureaucrats. Among the three of us, there is a lot of information and specific data floating around in our heads that we may not realize is important or interesting until someone asks!

So if you have a question, bring it to us! We love hearing from our readers. And, we love it when our readers share our posts with their friends, families, acquaintances, mortal enemies…whomever!

Thank you for continuing to follow us and never forget:

Truth Matters, Chico!

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Local Candidate Forums – Get Involved!

Juanita Sumner over at Chico Taxpayers Association (CTA) has organized a series of local candidate forums at the Chico library, to give the public an opportunity to meet the people who want to be in charge of our community. Bob Evans will be at this Sunday’s forum, which begins at noon. Links to the CTA blog posts about the forums are provided below, for more information about upcoming speakers.

If you don’t already follow Juanita’s blog, you should. She regularly attends both City and County meetings and has a long history of telling it like she sees it. In my personal opinion, she is one of the most well-informed citizens in Chico, and her blog posts are quite entertaining, as long as you don’t mind a bit of <ahem> colorful language.  🙂

Like us, she is even-handed in dispensing her opinions; no one is exempt from her BS detector, regardless of how they label themselves politically. While we don’t always reach the same conclusions as Juanita, we definitely respect her hard work in trying to get information out to the public and get the citizens involved. It can be a lonely and exhausting business, repeatedly sounding the alarm and being rewarded with few if any tangible results, but she’s a trooper; she’s been at this for years.

Anyway, we encourage you to read the CTA blog posts and get involved in this series of meetings with the candidates. Do what you must to be an informed voter, and help protect Chico from the consequences of poor decision-making at the ballot box. As we have mentioned before, a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against bad government.

Here are the links to the CTA blog posts about the candidate forums:

From January 23: Calling all roustabouts – come on down and help me set up chairs for Bob Evans, candidate, Butte County Dist 3

From January 17: Trying to get more candidates for our forum – sign up for our contact list

From January 12: Thanks Al Petersen for a wonderful meeting – next up, Bob Evans, candidate for Supervisor Dist. 3

From January 5: Ever wonder how your house is assessed and your property tax bill figured? Well come on down to the library Sunday and ask Butte County Assessor Candidate Alan Petersen

We thank you for your readership and for continuing to share our posts with your family and friends. As always, we welcome your questions and comments.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Seen or Unseen: 03/11/2008 Finance Committee Meeting

Next up in our Seen or Unseen series, where you, the reader, get to decide whether your local politicians are dishonest or merely incompetent… The March 11, 2008 Finance Committee meeting!

As before, let’s start with the minutes, so we can establish who the players were: 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_Minutes. Lo and behold, in early 2008, the Finance Committee was still being chaired by Scott Gruendl, with Mary Goloff (aka Flynn) and Larry Wahl rounding out the party.

(As a point of information, note that the Finance Committee minutes are prepared as a memorandum to the full council. This is standard procedure, so whatever information is contained in the minutes gets passed along to each and every council member.)

The first item on the minutes: Consideration of Deficit Reduction Strategy Implementation. According to the minutes, the council adopted a balancing strategy on December 18, 2007. So, why all the hoopla at the December 17, 2013 council meeting about the new-and-improved Executive Team “breaking new ground” by addressing deficits?

Want proof? Here are the minutes from that meeting: 2007-12-18_City Council Minutes_re_Finance Committee

I took the liberty of highlighting some fun details, such as Gruendl specifically calling out that “a significant reduction in costs totaling $912,323 has already been realized,” and seconding a motion that, among other things, reduced the Fleet Replacement Reserve by $300,000 for the next four years and reduced the transfer to the Private Development Fund [oh no he di’int!].

That intentional reduction in the Fleet Replacement Reserve should be kept in mind for a later blog post, which will delve into the Administrative Services Director’s shocking revelation to the 2012-13 Grand Jury about the decline of Fund balances over the last several years. The Private Development Fund deficit, always a council sweetheart, was clearly part of these discussions and the General Fund contribution to it was intentionally reduced. Yet now we’re being asked to believe that this is all news to the current council, including Gruendl and Goloff.

(As an aside, these minutes also demonstrate that Larry Wahl had to disqualify himself from downtown issues, along with Ann Schwab. So why all the recent flap about Schwab’s disqualification from the Sit/Lie Ordinance discussions?)

Now, back to the March 11, 2008 Finance Committee meeting. Next up on the minutes is a Financial Status of All Funds. Of particular interest is the following passage: “…as of 6/30/07 a total of 12 funds were in a deficit position.” [audible gasp] But I heard at a recent meeting that no one ever told them there were negative Fund balances!

While the Mayor has routinely snarked over the last few months that he didn’t like the flashy power point presentations provided by former staff, I’m finding them to be PRICELESS. Here are a few of my favorite slides; Gruendl and Goloff obviously nodded off and missed them.

The 12 funds in a deficit position as of June 30, 2007, and the two types of deficits: 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_Deficit Funds

The Private Development Fund’s existing and structural deficits, explained and with solutions offered. Wow! Does one of those bullet points read, “To resolve existing deficit, the City needs to transfer funds from the General Fund”? I thought no one ever told them the negative Fund balance was a General Fund obligation! 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_F862

The impacts of deficits, including the statement that “large deficits negatively impact the City’s cash flow.” But wait! No one ever warned them of cash flow issues! 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_Deficit Impacts

Want to flip through the entire presentation? Happy to oblige: 2008-03-11_Finance Committee_Status of all Funds

So, do we have convenient memory lapses, or intentional false accusations against prior staff? Ultimately, the council is responsible for all city actions, and plausible deniability doesn’t work when there are public records to dispute that plea.

Hey, Council — Here’s a suggestion: Learn the true history, and start paying attention to the lies you are being fed. Question the sudden need for drama, and what the underlying agenda — that someone else is setting — is really all about.

Hey, Readers — We appreciate each and every one of you. Doubly so when you share our blogs with a friend.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Cant_hear_you

Photo credit: snorgtees.com

Chapman, Mulberry and the LAFCo Stick

As mentioned in our Council Meeting post this morning, one of the items the Council will be addressing this evening relates to the Local Agency Formation Commission attempting to compel the City to annex certain unincorporated islands, including among others the Chapman and Mulberry neighborhoods. Conspicuously absent from the staff report is any mention of the historical context of this issue prior to August 2013. Once again, the ‘rightsizing out’ of institutional knowledge has led to incomplete information for the Council.

Since the history is critical to understanding what is at the core of this disagreement, we at Truth Matters, Chico! compiled some relevant documents (with the help of some ‘friends’) and forwarded them to the Council and staff this afternoon. Depending on the outcome of tonight’s discussion, we may delve more deeply into this issue to further enlighten the new Executive Team.

Following is the text of my email:

Upon reading the Staff Report for tonight’s LAFCo item, containing the most recent letter to the City of Chico, I thought it might be helpful for your discussion if I provided some additional historical information for context. Although some of you may already be aware of this, those of you who are new to the Council may not. Since Mr. Nakamura’s letter contained in the agenda report thanks Mr. Leverenz for the historical timeline, and contains no information prior to August 2013, I can only deduce that there is no one remaining on your staff with the institutional knowledge to provide the City’s perspective.

One important point that should not be ignored is what sparked LAFCo’s interest in this new round of annexations: the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Nitrate Abatement Order affecting properties currently on individual septic systems. This Order directs each parcel owner, NOT the City of Chico, to connect the property to a sewer service and abandon septic tanks. While the City must provide the infrastructure necessary for the property to be in compliance, the onus for complying with the Order lies with the property owner.

LAFCo has consistently chosen to disregard the health and safety issues surrounding the Nitrate Abatement Order, choosing instead to focus on its goals, and the potential revenues involved in processing the annexations, without regard to financial and other impacts to property owners. LAFCo is using sewer connections as a “stick” to force Butte County residents to annex into the City of Chico.

I am attaching the Nitrate Abatement Order, as well as a few other documents that will provide additional history regarding steps your former staff took to resolve this issue with LAFCo. I hope it will provide additional insight for your discussion tonight.

Best Regards, Quené

Here are the documents that were attached to the email:

Nitrate Abatement Order

LAFCO Hearing summary 01-07-2011

Annexation Plan Council Report 08-03-2012

LAFCo Follow-up Letter 08-06-2012

This is an important subject for anyone living in the unincorporated islands of Chapman, Mulberry, Forest Avenue, East Lassen Avenue, El Monte Avenue, and Chico Canyon Road. While there are many benefits to being annexed to the City, there are also detriments and costs that should be considered. Please share this post with anyone you know who lives in the impacted areas, so they will be aware of what is at stake.

Thank you for your readership. As always, your questions and comments are welcome.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Council Meeting Tonight

Tonight’s City Council Meeting starts at 6:30 pm at 421 Main Street. The meeting agenda can be found here.

Of particular interest on tonight’s agenda are:

(1) Consideration of a demand from the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for the City to initiate annexation proceedings for the Chapman, Mulberry, Forest Avenue, and East Lassen Avenue unincorporated islands. If you live in one of these areas, the outcome of this disagreement with LAFCO will affect you. Particularly in the Chapman and Mulberry areas, citizens have historically opposed annexation. This is, and has been for several years, a very contentious issue between LAFCO and the City. (LAFCo_Annexation_Demand)

(2) Final adoption of labor agreements for four of the City’s bargaining groups. If you intend to have your opinion considered in the Council’s decision making, tonight’s meeting will be your final opportunity. (International_Association_of_Firefighters; Management_Employees_Group; Confidential_Employees_Group, Chico_Employees_Association).

If you’ve never attended a council meeting before, please know that there are typically plenty of seats, and you can come and go as you like (in case you can’t make it until after 6:30 and/or really don’t want to hang around until 11 pm!). It’s okay to just come and observe — no need to speak unless you are so inclined. If you do wish to address the Council, there are speaker cards in the back of the chambers, and it’s as easy as filling out two fields and placing it in a basket. (Do make sure your speaker cards are submitted to the City Clerk’s station before your item comes up, particularly if it is on the Consent Agenda or under Reports and Communications, since there may be no discussion whatsoever if there is no request to be heard.)

If you can’t attend the meeting, you can watch from home via live stream or at a later date on the video recording. Our permanent link to the Council Meeting page, along with an explanation of how it works, is here: Watch Council Meetings

Again, we urge you to get involved. This is your community, and being informed and engaged is crucial. The Council works for you, so make your voice heard. Write letters, attend meetings or watch from home, ask questions and make comments on our blog posts, and hold the elected officials accountable at the polls.

Thank you for your continued readership. Please also continue to share our posts with your family, neighbors, and friends. As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

I’m disappointed that my household chores kept me close to home over the weekend. According to Mayor Scott Gruendl’s official Facebook page, there are “Impeach Gruendl” signs posted in north Chico, and I would like to take a selfie in front of one before he tears them all down. Or requires city staff to remove them (your General Fund dollars at work).

Along with a photo, the esteemed mayor posted this politically savvy, academy award worthy spin of a take on the signs:

“This is what motivates me politically. A constituent sent me a photo of these signs that have appeared in north Chico. Flattering that someone would take the time and effort to promote my name. Of course, the act of impeachment is something reserved for a Federal official, such as the president, so quite flattering indeed! However, it is also serious to accuse me of criminal wrong doing as a public official, so it is very concerning that someone would do this in such an anonymous and cowardly way. In fact, for me to be denied the opportunity to face my accuser is quite un-American.”

My thoughts? Why yes, I happen to have a few to share.

1)  Someone being disappointed enough in his performance to post negative signs “motivates [him] politically”? To do what? Actually vote in a manner that he feels benefits Chico citizens, instead of voting along with the Council majority (since, as mayor, he votes last)? Stop mocking voters/taxpayers/citizens? Run for a higher office, inspired by this thinly veiled adulation?

2)  He’s flattered “that someone would take the time and effort to promote [his] name.” Nice spin. Even if I wasn’t acutely aware of his shortcomings as an elected official, seeing “Impeach Gruendl” on a sign isn’t a real motivator for me to vote for him, at any level. And with a distinctive name like his, it’s easy to remember. I don’t think the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” necessarily applies in local government. Especially when this council is about to pull off a sleight of hand maneuver that will result in spending six figures’ worth of our tax dollars to pay a company to turn around and impose a garbage tax on us.

3)  I actually snorted when I read that “it is also serious to accuse me of criminal wrong doing as a public official,” when over the past six months or so, that has been the modus operandi of Gruendl, Sorensen, Flynn, and intermittently, some of the other councilors. Rather than admit they have changed their colors under their latest city manager, they continue to cast unfounded accusations — some of them involving criminal wrongdoing — at previous administrators. And at “disgruntled former employees,” such as the three of us.

4)  He’s concerned that someone has posted their opinions “in such an anonymous and cowardly way.” So writes the guy who abuses his bully pulpit at every opportunity, clearly more interested in making accusations than revealing truths that might paint him in an unflattering light. We at Truth Matters, Chico! have been sharing our opinions in a very public way, à la blogging and speaking at meetings; yet I don’t see the mayor taking what we are saying to heart. For example, why don’t we see an indignant Facebook post from him about protecting the integrity of the public record or not abusing closed session privileges?

5)  Rolling right in with my fourth point is a snicker at Gruendl being “denied the opportunity to face his accuser,” who must, therefore, be “un-American.” When the mayor accused my colleagues and me of great wrongdoing on his Facebook page [Have you read the now infamous Facebook rant?] and threatened — repeatedly — to release “embarrassing things from [our] personnel files” (perhaps embarrassing to him in their total lack of embarrassing things?), I don’t recall getting an opportunity to face him. He did it while cowering behind the council dais and from the safety of his computer, like so many Internet trolls, as well as through a statement to the press, which he later attempted to have retracted. Apparently, Gruendl’s reputation is sacrosanct, while the professional and personal reputations of dissenters, nay, taxpaying citizens, are his to tread upon with impunity. I would also refer you back to my third point; I have yet to hear of any former administrators being allowed an opportunity to face those councilors who routinely accuse them of wrongdoing and mock their professional reputations during the council’s twice monthly grandstanding sessions.

For the record, we at Truth Matters, Chico! are not responsible for the signs. If we make signs, they will read, “RECALL GRUENDL”  with our web address clearly displayed beneath. That’s the way we roll.

If anyone wants to start a recall effort, contact city clerk Debbie Presson at (530) 896-7250. Having been recalled as a Town of Paradise councilmember, she’ll surely know the drill.

And if the anonymous sign maker is reading this, and I hope you are… If you make a new set of signs to RECALL GRUENDL, I’d like one for my yard.

Impeach_Gruendl

Leaking the Top Secret Operation

Well, here we go again. At the December 17 meeting, I addressed the Council about its running commentary on the 2nd Floor Staffing/Finance Workout Plan, hoping to put that baby to bed once and for all.

It was going pretty well; in fact, the Mayor was very polite and asked me some clarifying questions — and then allowed me to answer. The Administrative Services Director followed up with positive comments, acknowledging that previous staff had taken action to address the plummeting Fund balances. I was pretty satisfied with that much progress.

But then Mark Sorensen jumped right back into full assault mode — seemingly driven by some sort of clandestine, private-frequency radio transmission (perhaps from a spy drone?) reaffirming his theory that former staff had conspired to harm the Council and destroy the City by secretly driving Fund balances into the red.

You think I’m kidding? I’ll link you to the one-minute video clip so you can see for yourself, but I just want to point out that he actually used the words “top secret operation.” Yes, he really did say those words. Out loud. He did.

Here’s the clip: Sorensen “Top Secret Operation”

After Sorensen made his ill-advised (and ill-informed) remark, I emailed him to let him know he was off base, that it would have been more beneficial if he had simply asked me about it during the discussion, and that I would be happy to speak with him publicly or privately to fill him in on the details of the mini-allocation.

He responded by telling me it was something Quené said during her comments that had triggered the thought, as if that excused it, and so I politely replied and repeated my offer to talk with him openly and honestly about anything he wanted to know.

I received no further response, which has unfortunately earned him a dose of embarrassing public enlightenment in lieu of a pleasant, informative conversation. I swear, I just can’t figure the guy out.

Back in September, we three gals had some pretty lively conversations with the Mayor about believing media reports, after which Alicia finally pinned him down and asked him, if we aren’t to believe the media, can we at least rely on what is said during Council meetings? After a little soft shoe routine and some political double speak, the Mayor finally said, “Everybody holds one another accountable in this chamber.”

Mr. Sorensen, consider yourself on notice that you are going to be held accountable. You don’t get to just say whatever you want from the dais and expect it to be accepted as truth simply because you’re the one who said it. There is a truth to be told, but you have been so preoccupied with your personal mission to ruin the professional reputations of honorable public servants that you refuse to listen and therefore can’t possibly understand it, much less explain it to anyone else. You need to stop. Really.

Now, here is some factual information about the Private Development Allocation (known internally as the “mini-allocation”):

As we explored in a recent post, allocations distribute costs, as opposed to transfers, which distribute dollars. The mini-allocation distributes operating costs from the Private Development Fund (Fund 862) to a handful of other Funds that benefit from work efforts by Planning staff, and to a lesser extent, Building staff. Keep that in mind as you read along.

This particular allocation was first developed in fiscal year 2010-11, as part of the 2nd floor finance plan. It was a tool we used to clean up accounting for the Planning Services Department’s operations, so we could quantify the true cost of processing development applications. For the moment, please just trust me that it resulted in a net reduction in costs to the impacted Funds. There was no additional money being spent.

As you can see in the following document, staff cleverly hid this “top secret operation” from the Council on page 2 of the City Manager’s fiscal year 2010-11 budget message — that would be the second page of the proposed budget — where they would be sure to overlook it.

2010-07-06_Budget Message

Ooooooh, and in the next document you will see that former Finance Director Hennessy went to great lengths to bury the mini-allocation in the budget page dedicated to Fund 862 by assigning it a specific department called Private Development Cost Allocation, so no one would recognize it.

That was such a sneaky move that Administrative Services Director Constantin and his new-and-improved budget team mustn’t have even noticed it when they put it in the current fiscal year’s budget! According to Sorensen, it took the City’s super-duper fraud seeking auditors to finally discover it and bring it to everyone’s attention.

(Also notice how Ms. Hennessy mistakenly revealed the uber-classified negative Fund balance at the bottom of the page… Bad form!)

Fund 862_Mini-Allocation

And the final straw: The next document is an example of how the mini-allocation was hidden in the Funds that received the allocation. I’m using the Sewer Fund (Fund 850) budget page, since Sorensen specifically called that out in his “top secret operation,” but if you go to the City’s published budget, you can find the same line item on every single impacted Fund. This is certainly advanced trickery and foul play!

Fund 850_Mini-Allocation

In the documents above, you can see that the allocation appears in the Operating Expenditures section for both Funds. It is a negative number for Fund 862, since it is technically an offset to expenses, and a positive number for Fund 850, since it is a true expense. The numbers aren’t the same for both Funds, because Fund 862 shows the aggregate allocation, whereas Fund 850 only shows its portion of the allocation.

Now that we’ve established there was absolutely nothing “top secret” about the mini-allocation, let’s look into why we created it.

Since at least as far back as 1991, when the Private Development Fund was created, some Planning salaries were budgeted to other Funds, including the Sewer Fund and the Subdivision Fund. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to my paper files (I had to dig through dusty old budget binders to figure out what had originally happened… ack!), so I don’t have the complete list of funding sources to share with you. Suffice it to say that Fund 862 never fully funded Planning’s operations.

Instead of development staff charging their time to what they were actually doing, they charged time based on where they were funded in the budget. To make the funding ratio work out properly, some staff were charging up to 60% of their time directly to other Funds. (Click here if you’d like to see an example of pre-Private Development Allocation funding for Planning staff.) This was specific direction that came from the City Manager’s office, and it was a source of considerable concern for both Finance and development staff.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not being critical of the funding sources; there is a legitimate nexus between development staff work and benefit to other funds. The problem was a lack of accountability and transparency, which translated into the inability to properly quantify costs and develop appropriate User Fees. How can the cost of processing a Use Permit be accurately tracked when the staff person working on it is charging time to Sewer or Transportation or Redevelopment, just to make the budget numbers work?

There is much more to this, and I promise you I will break it all down when I write the dedicated Private Development Fund post, but for now it is enough to say that we unwound that particular problem by allocating costs, eliminating direct staff charges to the benefiting Funds, and then fully accounting for private development costs in Fund 862.

Here’s an oversimplified explanation of how it worked: We added up all of the private development staff charges to Funds other than Fund 862. We applied a 10% discount factor, since we were attempting to cut budgets in all impacted Funds. Then, via the mini-allocation, the costs were distributed as expenses to the benefiting Funds. Here is the official calculation for the original mini-allocation (which, incidentally, is included in the City’s files for anyone to examine — nothing top secret here):

F862 Mini-Allocation for Final Budget Resolution

Once the allocation was in place, we tied it to a percentage of staff salaries for development work, rather than allowing it to continue as a fixed cost to the benefiting Funds. The effect of this can be seen in the dollar decrease from fiscal year 2010-11 to fiscal year 2011-12. In other words, the more we reduced Fund 862 salaries, the more the allocation was reduced, for a net savings to the benefiting Funds. (There was also a reduction in the allocation due to the loss of RDA funds, but that is immaterial to this discussion.)

The other effect of allocating the costs and direct charging only Fund 862 was the ability to assign cost centers to specific Planning staff work efforts and other operating expenses. This was critical in our effort to establish solid data for a new User Fee Study. Incorrect underlying data will always result in incorrect fees, no matter how skillful the technical analysis and mathematical calculations used in the study might be.

We cleaned up Fund 862 to enable us to use a formula based on actual costs for processing the various types of applications, divided by the actual volume of applications. Unfortunately, however, once ACM Rucker and BDSD McKinley mysteriously vanished, the authority behind the effort vanished with them. But that’s another story in and of itself. What a waste.

And so, the mini-allocation was a good part of the finance plan. I doubt it is still functioning properly at this point, since there is no one left who understands the mechanism of tying it to salaries or the process we put in place for monitoring the Fund balance on a bi-weekly basis. Fund 862 finished fiscal year 2012-13 in the black (annual revenues exceeded annual expenditures); it was the first time that happened since 2001. It will be interesting to see how the Fund finishes for fiscal year 2013-14.

So much for Sorensen’s “top secret operation” conspiracy theory. Hopefully, someone who loves him will splurge on a tin foil hat for him, to keep those wacky cloak-and-dagger ideas in check. Hey, it could help…

We thank you for your readership and ask that you continue to share our posts with your family, friends, and neighbors. As always, your questions and comments are welcome. Consider making a New Year’s resolution to be more involved in what’s happening with your local government; after all, these folks work for you.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

tin-foil-hat

Photo credit: blogs.desmoinesregister.com

Council Meeting Tonight

Tonight’s City Council Meeting starts at 6:30 pm at 421 Main Street. The meeting agenda can be found here.

Of particular interest on tonight’s agenda are:

(1) Consideration of a draft social host ordinance that would impose liability on persons hosting, or responsible for, events on private property at which alcohol is possessed and consumed by persons under the age of 21. This is one aspect of the Clean and Safe program advocated by the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Chico Business Association. The agenda report linked below clarifies who is a responsible party under the ordinance; discusses enforcement, prosecution, and fines; identifies four exceptions to the ordinance; and sets forth a process for cost recovery. If you are a landlord, this ordinance may affect you, so please read the report and follow the hearings and outcome to make certain you are aware of your rights and responsibilities. (Draft_Social_Host_Ordinance)

(2) Consideration of a proposal to allow the sale and consumption of alcohol at the Bidwell Park Municipal Golf Course (Bidwell_Park_Municipal_Golf_Course_Alcohol_Sales)

(3) Sunshining of tentative labor agreements for four of the City’s bargaining groups. If you intend to have your opinion considered in the Council’s decision making, the best time to address the Council would be at tonight’s meeting. The next step will be to have the agreements put on the agenda for Council approval, and in our opinion, the likelihood of them being amended at that point in the process will be severely diminished. Red-lined versions of the agreements are attached to the agenda reports, so you can see what changes have been proposed. (International_Association_of_Firefighters; Management_Employees_Group; Confidential_Employees_GroupChico_Employees_Association).

If you’ve never attended a council meeting before, please know that there are typically plenty of seats, and you can come and go as you like (in case you can’t make it until after 6:30 and/or really don’t want to hang around until 11pm!). It’s okay to just come and observe — no need to speak unless you are so inclined. If you do wish to address the Council, there are speaker cards in the back of the chambers, and it’s as easy as filling out two fields and placing it in a basket. (Do make sure your speaker cards are submitted to the City Clerk’s station before your item comes up, particularly if it is on the Consent Agenda or under Reports and Communications, since there may be no discussion whatsoever if there is no request to be heard.)

If you can’t attend the meeting, you can watch from home via live stream or at a later date on the video recording. Our permanent link to the Council Meeting page, along with an explanation of how it works, is here: Watch Council Meetings

Again, we urge you to get involved. This is your community, and being informed and engaged is crucial. The Council works for you, so make your voice heard. Write letters, attend meetings or watch from home, ask questions and make comments on our blog posts, and hold the elected officials accountable at the polls.

Thank you for your continued readership. Please also continue to share our posts with your family, neighbors, and friends. As always, we welcome your comments and questions.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

More Performance Evaluations

(Before reading further – please bring to mind your early childhood memories of Sesame Street, and, in particular, the wonderful character and voice of The Count. Count von Count!)

This week’s City Council meeting is brought to you by the number 10. As in 10 performance evaluations for City Manager Brian Nakamura. Ah ah ah!

That is right folks; January 7 Closed Session is scheduled to be the tenth performance evaluation since Nakamura joined the City of Chico in September 2012. As we mentioned in a prior post, where we first asked the question Is Council Abusing Closed Session Exceptions, Nakamura’s contract with the City only calls for an annual performance review. His first evaluation was to occur in April of 2013, with follow-ups to happen every year thereafter as long as he maintains employment.

Instead of an annual performance evaluation, Nakamura is coming up on his tenth in 17 months. 10 in 17! Ah ah ah!

In following up with what was also mentioned in the prior post linked above, the Council has yet to make any announcement on actions taken during these Closed Sessions. Ten performance evaluations – but Chico, the Council has nothing to report to you! Ah ah ah!

I can’t speak for The Count, but I do have to wonder myself how many evaluations will Nakamura receive before he leaves town?

Special Council Session Tomorrow

In addition to Tuesday evening’s regular Chico City Council meeting, an agenda has been posted for a special “Goal Setting Session” at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow. If you plan to follow the City’s budget process, this will be an important meeting to either attend or watch from home.

I attended last year’s two goal setting meetings, while I was still a City employee. The only thing I took away from the meetings was a realization that Nakamura’s leadership style would consist of quashing any communication between staff and Council by convincing Council they are corporate bigwigs rather than public servants, of further reinforcing the theme of management by fear and secrecy, and of blowing pretty-colored smoke up the Council’s collective skirt. It was during the first of those two meetings that he promised the Council a list of the department directors’ priorities for their consideration, which never publicly materialized, and about which he subsequently lied to Councilmember Ritter on March 5, 2013 (watch for a future post on this topic!).

At this meeting, Nakamura is supposed to “provide the Council with an overview of the priorities and goals that were approved by Council in January 2013,” which as far as I can tell wound up being just a list of vague ideas: Public Safety, Economic Development, Administrative Services (Finance), Transportation / Environment, and Technology. In other words, Nakamura had free rein to do what he pleased, as long as he could jam his agenda into one of the categories on that list. I guess we’ll find out what his interpretation of those “priorities and goals” was, based on where the budget dollars end up.

I was looking at Nakamura’s presentation linked to the agenda and had to laugh. I remember seeing the pre-meeting version of last year’s presentation, which included a blank page right in the middle. Staff thought that was where the department director priorities would show up, but it turned out to be his lame excuse for a rightsized organizational chart. That bombshell was the beginning of the end of staff’s respect for him. I wonder what surprises will pop up during this year’s presentation.

I also noticed that he listed the Cost Allocation Plan (CAP) under Transportation / Environment. How many times can I say that the CAP is a FINANCE study? It distributes ADMINISTRATIVE DEPARTMENT costs across Funds? It has absolutely nothing to do with transportation or the environment. Maybe Nakamura is the source of Sorensen’s ongoing confusion about the CAP; he can’t seem to sort it out from the User Fee Study and still somehow believes the CAP was “buried on the 2nd floor for two years.” The 2nd floor is Building, Planning, and Engineering — not Finance. But I guess those departments could easily be mistaken one for the other. I shouldn’t be so judgmental.

Here is the Chico Enterprise Record’s slightly different take on the meeting: ‘Chico City Council to set goals in workshop Monday

Anyway, I would encourage you to watch the meeting. Perhaps you will get some foreshadowing of the direction in which Nakamura intends to take your city next year. I expect to hear about more consultants and studies and contracting out of services. Is that what you want? Will that grow Chico’s economy or send your tax dollars away to other communities?

Please get involved and make your voice heard. Nakamura still has no clue about what makes Chico such a special place, so if you want your Councilmembers to consider what’s important to you in the goal setting, you’re going to have to speak up and tell them yourself.

Thank you for your continued readership, and for continuing to share our posts with your family, friends, and neighbors. As always, we welcome your questions and comments.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

Agenda

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